The decision of the National Commission on Television and Radio to grant the 37th frequency to “Sharm" company, having actually deprived one of the first independent broadcasters, “A1+” TV company, of its air, remains a subject for a close attention of media, political and public figures of the country (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 30 – April 5, 2002).
On April 5 “A1+” declined the invitation of the RA President Robert Kocharian to meet the staff of the TV company. Having thanked the President, the staff of “A1+” motivated the refusal with the circumstance that, according to the statements made by Robert Kocharian, the parties have not as yet determined the issues to be discussed. “We believe the meeting to be more productive after the issue is settled judicially”, the reply of the TV company to the President says.
On the same day “A1+” rejected the offer of the Public Television of Armenia to give air to the “A1+” newscast, “Ayb-Feh”, once a day during a month. “We want to preserve our face on our frequency”, the Director of “A1+” Mesrop Movsesian said.
At a meeting called on April 5 at the Freedom Square in Yerevan to protect “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan” TV companies, its organizers (representatives of 14 opposition parties of Armenia) introduced a number of demands to the supreme administration of the country: to resume the broadcasts of “A1+” on the 37th frequency; annul the competitions held by the National Commission on Television and Radio; dismiss the National Commission; remove from circulation the draft law “On Mass Communication”; cancel the decision of a number of ministries and governmental agencies about not giving session rooms to the political parties; provide a free tribune for political debate on the Public Television of Armenia. In the opinion of President Robert Kocharian, if the meeting organizers were familiar with the Constitution and the RA legislation, they would understand these issues are beyond his mandate.
The support to “A1+” is voiced not only by Armenian public. Thus, the New York TV company “Erebuni-Yerevan” and a group of representatives of the Armenian community of Los Angeles expressed their solidarity. A well-known Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner wished the company luck in their further undertakings and noted that in case of an unfavorable outcome, he will consider the possibilities for giving “A1+” airtime during his authorship program ”Vremena” on ORT.
On April 8 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed its concern over the loss of the frequency by “A1+”. The Executive Director of this reputable U.S. organization Ann Cooper stated: “The Kocharian Government is blatantly abusing the frequency licensing in an attempt to silence a critical media voice.” CPJ expressed its hope that “the Economic Court will reverse this unjust decision”. As it has already been reported, the suit of “A1+” founder, “Meltex” LLC, will be heard on April 16 (see details in YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 30 – April 5, 2002).
The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) added “its voice to those of other organizations that have protested the closure of two independent TV stations – ‘A1+’ and ‘Noyan Tapan’”. In the open letter to the President Robert Kocharian dated April 10, the IHF Executive Director Aaron Rhodes assessed the situation with the TV companies “as the Armenian government’s attempt to silence free media ahead of presidential elections”. Stressing that being a member of the Council of Europe Armenia assumed the obligations “to provide its citizens with fundamental rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of expression”, the IHF Director reminded “the Government of Armenia of its obligations” and asked it “to review the licensing process”.
On April 10 a statement by seven broadcasters, seven newspapers and three news agencies of Armenia was published. The parties to the statement expressed their regret over the competition failure of “A1+”, which “took and will take a merited place in the information filed” of the country, and noted the importance to solve the problem “along a legal dimension only”. The authors of the statement evaluated the meetings and protest actions organized by “certain political forces” as “an attempt to shift the media problems of purely legal nature to a political plane, entangle them in the pre-election games and present Armenia to the world community as an undemocratic country to reach their own political targets”. Having emphasized that the “freedom of speech in Armenia is not violated, and proper conditions are in place for the media to operate”, the media representatives advised “all political forces” not to speak “on our behalf”, not to politicize “our problems” and not to use them “for their own purposes”.
This statement (initiated by the Chief Editor of “Hayots Ashkhar” daily Gagik Mkrtchian) shows that the watershed between the media who give differing assessments to the situation with “A1+” grows.